Best Softshell Jackets: Reviewed

When I’m hiking or climbing in cold weather my level of enjoyment is directly linked to how warm and dry I am. Buying one of the best softshell jackets that my budget allowed for was one of the best hiking gear investments I’ve made.

It wasn’t a simple choice though. The more I looked at different options the more I realized that there are way more factors to consider than I first thought. Here are a few things you should know if you’re looking to buy a good soft shell jacket.

Best Softshell Jackets Reviewed:

After checking out a number of great soft shell jackets we narrowed it down to these top 6:​


If you regularly climb in cool to cold conditions then this might just end up being your favorite jacket. I really liked how this jacket felt light enough to allow for good movement but it did a great job at keeping me warm once the sun disappeared.

The wind resistance wasn’t the best though but the fit allows for comfortable layering. While not waterproof, the DWR coating made drops bead off nicely in some light rain and the fabric dried really quickly.

While the fabric felt light it displayed good abrasion resistance. When it gets too warm to wear this jacket stuffs into its left-hand pocket and the built-in loop lets you clip it into a harness on your pack.

Fabric: 86% Nylon, 14% Spandex​

What We Like

  • Shoulders are abrasion-resistant to prevent back strap wear
  • Internal chin-guard 
  • Highly breathable so you don't overheat
  • Adjustable hood for wetter conditions
  • 2 hand pockets for storing small items, zippered chest pocket doubles as stuff sack
  • Carabiner loop for clipping it onto your daypack when not in use

What We Don't Like

  • Wind resistance wasn't quite up to what we expected

This is a great choice for fast and light climbing in cold weather. The fabric has good stretch, allowing for a high degree of mobility and has a good balance between water resistance and remaining breathable.

The great water resistance performance is down to the NanoSphere textile finish. A Swiss textile company called Schoeller (1) created this finish using nanotechnology. It makes the fabric water, oil and dirt repellant as well as highly abrasion resistant.

DWR coatings eventually come off in the wash but the NanoSphere finish is permanently bonded to the fabric surface. The climbing-helmet compatible hoody provides excellent coverage and added to the excellent cold temperature performance of this jacket.

The low hand pocket location meant they were a little in the way of my harness at times but otherwise there’s really nothing to complain about.

Fabric: 95% Nylon, 5% Elastane​

What We Like

  • Adjustable, helmet-compatible hood
  • Custom-molded adjustable velcro cuff tabs
  • 2 hand pockets, 2 internal drop pockets, 1 internal chest pocket - all zippered
  • Additional media pocket with port for earphone cord
  • Good balance between water resistance and breathability

What We Don't Like

  • Would have preferred the hand pockets to be a little higher to get out of the way of my harness.

This jacket is proof that staying warm doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice mobility.

The grid fleece lining and layered shell do a great job of keeping keeping body warmth in and the wind out. The side panels on the inside of the waist and arms are unlined to provide extra mobility while also serving as vents to prevent overheating.

The shell is made from Patagonia’s Polartec Windbloc (2). This 3 layer arrangement uses a breathable layer sandwiched between the durable outer layer and the inner layer of lofted fibers.

We loved the high degree of wind resistance this resulted in and how breathable it still felt. This fabric has a great soft feel to it and resists pilling even after multiple washes.

Fabric: 93% Polyester, 7% Spandex - Polartec Windbloc​

What We Like

  • Fleece grid backer lining provides good insulation and moisture wicking
  • 2 hand warmer pockets, 1 exterior chest pocket, one interior chest pocket - all zippered
  • Hand warmer pockets are above harness / pack strap height
  • Hem cinches without bunching
  • Stretchy, breathable side panels prevent overheating
  • Helmet compatible hood

What We Don't Like

  • Internal layer does a good job of wicking moisture but takes a long time to dry.

This light-weight soft shell jacket is the ideal choice for climbing in summer months. It’s designed to provide complete weather protection with an adjustable hood and a DWR coated windproof shell.

While it performs well in cooler weather, it’s when you start to work up a sweat that this jacket comes into its own.

The 2-layer Vapour-rise design uses a durable Pertex Equilibrium fabric on the outside and a micro-fleece liner on the inside. The micro-pile inner layer wicks moisture away from the skin and then the outer layer pulls this moisture to the surface where it quickly dries.

To get the most from this jacket it should be worn next to your skin or over a wicking base layer.

Fabric: 100% Nylon Pertex Equilibrium​

What We Like

  • 2 external chest pockets, 1 internal pocket - all zippered
  • Adjustable velcro cuffs
  • Internal storm flap, chin guard
  • Light weight (12oz, 343g) and very breathable

What We Don't Like

  • No side hand pockets

north face softshell jacket

If you’re heading out into wind and temperatures of 30 to 40 degrees this is a great choice.

This jacket only has a thin fleece lining but it still felt really warm and the shell has some serious wind resistance. Any lower than 30 degrees and you’d have to add layers or wear a different jacket.

They’ve obviously done a good job with the DWR coating because water beaded right off in light drizzle.

The fabric has good stretch so it’s a good choice for high activity hiking or climbing. The fabric on the inside has got a nice soft feel to it and felt really comfortable through a full range of motion.

The outer shell is abrasion resistant and very durable which makes sense seeing as they offer a lifetime guarantee on the jacket.

Fabric: 96% Polyester, 4% Spandex​

What We Like

  • Adjustable velcro cuffs
  • Good water and wind resistance
  • Very stretchy material provides excellent mobility
  • Durable construction

What We Don't Like

  • No inner pocket
  • No hood

A lot of soft shell jackets are all about function without paying too much attention to how they look.

This versatile jacket will not only keep cold winds at bay, but you’ll look good while wearing it too. The fabric is the AirShield Core layering system that Mountain Hardwear use to provide excellent wind resistance while retaining good breathability.

The collar comes up just high enough to protect your neck from the wind without getting in the way of your chin and the elasticated cuffs provide a comfortable wrist seal.

While the fabric does have some water resistant properties they’ve designed it more for wind resistance and breathability.

If you’re expecting a lot of rain then this may not be the best option. If you want a light jacket that is excellent at keeping the wind out then it’s perfect.

We really liked how the tricot lining on the inside gives it a nice soft and warm feel.

Fabric: Polyester / Elastane​

What We Like

  • 2 zippered hand pockets, 1 zippered chest pocket
  • Comfortable collar height gives good neck protection from wind
  • Elasticated cuffs seal nicely around wrists without being tight
  • Very warm and wind resistant
  • Cheaper than a lot of other similar jackets

What We Don't Like

  • Sleeves run a bit long
  • No internal pockets

Buyer's Guide:

​Softshell vs Hardshell Jackets

If you’re looking for a good hiking or climbing jacket then you probably thought to yourself: “Do I go hard shell or soft shell?”

The main difference between these types comes down to water and wind resistance. Hard shell jackets will be completely waterproof and windproof but will not be very breathable and feel hot when the sun comes out.

The best softshell jackets will have a measure of water and wind resistance but won’t block these elements completely. They will, however, be breathable and will offer better mobility.

soft shell jackets

Soft Shell Jacket Fabric

The shells of these jackets are generally made from a blend of synthetic fabrics. These fabrics will have different properties and it’s important to understand the conditions that you expect before making your choice. 

Weight

Very lightweight fabrics will be extremely comfortable to wear but may not be very wind resistant. Heavier fabrics will be warmer but more restrictive.​

​Durability

There's always a compromise between weight and durability so you'll need to decide which is more important. A thicker fabric with good abrasion resistance will look good for longer and is less likely to pill after the first few hikes or washes.

​Some jackets will have reinforced abrasion resistant shoulders which is a great feature if you plan on carrying a pack for a long time.

​Breathability

Although you may intend wearing your jacket to keep warm, it's inevitable that you'll work up a sweat. When you do, you want to be sure that your jacket fabric is breathable and that the lining wicks away the perspiration.

​Mobility

​If you’re a climber then mobility is key. A fabric with a small amount of Spandex, or Elastene, will give you the stretch you need. Make sure that in addition to good stretch that the fabric also has good recovery so that it keeps its shape.

​Noise

​Loud colors are fine but noisy jackets aren’t. Avoid cheap polyester fabrics because the constant rustling will quickly detract from the peace and quiet you were after when you headed outdoors.

winter hiking jackets

Weather Resistance

​For your jacket to keep you happy in winter conditions it’s going to need to be able to deal with water, wind and cold.

​Water Resistance

While no soft shell jacket will ever be properly waterproof it should have a high degree of water resistance while remaining breathable. Make sure that the fabric of the jacket has been treated with a durable water resistant (DWR) coating.

If it has, then light rain and snow will bead off rather than being absorbed. In heavier rain, regardless of what the manufacturer says, you can expect that the soft shell fabric will get a little soaked. Choosing a quick-dry fabric will mean that you’re less likely to stay wet.​

​Wind Resistance

There’s nothing quite as sharp as a cold alpine wind. Making a fabric that is wind resistant is pretty easy. Making one that is wind resistant and breathes well, that’s a lot harder.

Look for a jacket that has multiple layers in the shell. This is usually a good sign that they’ve made the outside wind resistant while using the inner layers to promote breathability and perspiration wicking.

​Cold

A really light jacket will be fine on most days but when it gets really cold it’s not going to have the insulation to get the job done. If the fit is loose enough then you may just need to add an extra layer or two under the jacket.

If you want guaranteed warmth then make sure that your jacket has an insulation layer and fleece lining. A good seal around the hem, cuffs and neck are also essential.

If you are expecting freezing temperatures, you will want to check out the best down jackets for the ultimate in warmth.​

Softshell Jacket Features

Not all jackets are created equal. While some extras can seem a little gimmicky there are some good reasons why you should consider getting a jacket with these helpful extras.​

Soft shell jackets

​Chin Guard

Cold wind has a knack of finding its way in through even the slightest opening. A good chin guard will block the wind and allow you to keep your neck area warm.

Some jackets just have a flap on the outside but for maximum protection look for a jacket that also has an internal chin guard. You want it to come up high enough for good protection but not so high that it’s uncomfortable to wear.

Hood

 A hood will add weight but when it starts to get really cold and the wind comes up you’ll be so glad you’ve got one.

If you climb with a helmet (and you should) then make sure that the hood is helmet compatible. You want to be able to get the hood over your helmet but you also want it to be able to cinch down around your head without looking huge when you’re not wearing a helmet.

​Velcro Cuff Tabs

Some jackets rely on elasticated cuffs to seal around your wrists. These can be ok but some feel either too tight or too loose. Cuffs with adjustable velcro tabs will allow you to get a good, comfortable seal. Just make sure that are wide enough to go over your gloves if you wear them.

Carabiner Loop & Stuff Sack

This is more of a “nice to have” than essential but it’s a feature I really like. Some of the lighter jackets will fold up and stuff into one of their zip pockets. Once folded, the exposed carabiner loop means you can simply clip it onto the outside of your daypack instead of having to find storage space for the jacket inside.

Pockets

Secure, large pockets are essential if you want to avoid having to rummage in your pack every few minutes. Make sure the pockets are properly zippered.

You’re looking for a secure seal but with a zipper that is easy to operate while wearing gloves. Some good jackets will have an internal pocket which is great for keeping a cell phone out of the elements.

The positioning of the hand warmer pockets is important. Make sure that they’re high enough so that they don’t get obstructed by your pack harness.

Conclusion:

While all of the jackets above are great options, you should take into account the level of activity you’ll be engaging in and the weather conditions you expect.

Fast climbing in cold, dry conditions will call for a lightweight windproof jacket while hiking in snow or light rain will require better water resistance.

Your best option is to get one of the softshell jackets above, wear a thermal layer underneath and keep a rain shield in your pack for just in case.

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